The best thing that Stone Temple Pilots ever did was take the Butthole Surfers and Flaming Lips on tour. It was also the worst thing to ever happen to STP singer Scott Weiland, who was found dead in his tour bus today.
The year was 1993, the peak of grunge, and Weiland and the rest of STP had just broken into the mainstream, scoring hit singles with “Plush,” “Creep,” and “Sex Type Thing.” There was one problem: Unlike their peers in Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Mudhoney, Stone Temple Pilots were phonies.
As good as their debut disc Core is — and it’s a solid slab of muscular pop — there was no question that Weiland and his cohorts had committed the most egregious sin in rock ‘n’ roll: they ripped off their contemporaries.
I remember the first time I heard Core. It was midnight on a Saturday night, and my brother and I were listening to Rock 101 in Greenville. I’m sure we were still half-drunk and high from whatever suburban mischief we were involved in that night. As stations were prone to do back then, Rock 101 played STP’s debut in its entirety. Right off the bat, we were hooked. However, even then we could hear the clear nods to already established grunge acts.
“Plush,” what would become the band’s biggest single at the time, was clearly influenced by Pearl Jam’s brand of arena rock anthems, a fact that was further hammered home when the video for the single included repeated shots of Weiland mimicking Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder’s onstage demeanor; on the track itself, Weiland co-opted Vedder’s then-growling vocals. It also didn’t help that Pearl Jam themselves were half-phonies in the Seattle grunge rock scene despite the band’s Mother Love Bone-Green River pedigree. They were pretenders too.
“Creep,” with Weiland this time adopting a Kurt Cobain-like beaten-dog rasp, was a grunge ballad patterned after Nirvana’s “Something in the Way,” which, in turn, had borrowed from George Harrison’s “Something.”
Meanwhile, on “Sex Type Thing,” Weiland played the part of Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley, while STP’s “Where the River Goes” was a complete and utter rip off Soundgarden, circa Badmotorfinger.
Still Core was a solid LP and it hit me right in my alternative rock-loving heart.
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that grunge itself was less a new genre and more of a homage to a previous era of rock ‘n’ roll. The grunge blueprint itself was really no more than the combination of Led Zeppelin’s blues rock with the sludge of Black Sabbath, but with the anti-sellout edge of the ’80s hardcore punk scene. Nirvana, however, ditched this template, dumping Zeppelin and replacing them with the Beatles and Reagan/Bush I-era college rock radio-darlings the Pixies and Sonic Youth.
And so in 1993, rock journalists and diehard grunge fans knew exactly who Scott Weiland and STP were, and they hated them for it. As a result, STP sought to assert their previously absent alternative rock bona fides. Enter the Butthole Surfers and the Flaming Lips.
If touring with these two acts didn’t declare to the world that Stone Temple Pilots were authentic then nothing would. It didn’t work. The band remained alt-rock pariahs, albeit chart-topping ones. More importantly to the story of STP and Scott Weiland, it was on that tour, thanks to the members of the Butthole Surfers, he picked up a heroin habit which might have contributed to his early demise today.
As the year’s passed, Weiland himself seemed particularly troubled by his status as a rock ‘n’ roll phony, adopting the same anti-sell out, anti-corporate rock stance that Kurt Cobain had defined so clearly and which Pearl Jam later perfected — a move that was necessary to establish their credibility as something more than teen-friendly alt rockers. Eventually, Weiland even ditched the grunge-rock vocal stylings that propelled the band to the top in favor of a grating nasally whine, a sound that surely contributed to the band’s demise.
But try as Scott Weiland might, he couldn’t escape the fact that he was a phony. So when the ousted members of Guns ‘n Roses came calling, Weiland begrudgingly joined Slash, Duff McKagen, and Matt Sorum in Velvet Revolver. The band was a success but by no means a musical force, victims of the same sense of hyper-expectations faced by Audioslave, an alt-rock supergroup featuring Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and the musical force behind Rage Against the Machine. Much of Velvet Revolver’s consistent meh-ness was likely the product of the fact that when he partnered with Slash and Co., he was partnering with the sidemen from Guns ‘n Roses, and not the band’s principal songwriters, Izzy Straddlin and Axl Rose. Absent Weiland’s consistence drug troubles, the band was doomed from the start.
Eventually, Velvet Revolver faded and a sort of nostalgic love for STP grew. Weiland rejoined the band that made him famous for a time before getting kicked out or leaving, depending on who you ask, most likely during yet another period of relapse.
While the cause of death of Scott Weiland is uncertain, his legacy and the legacy of his band is unmistakable. They’re giants on modern rock and classic rock radio. But for those that remember, they will always be phonies.
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